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How One Swiss Watch Brand Is Reminding Its Retailers They Are Important

Hamilton offered an experience to remember.

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BACK IN EARLY OCTOBER, I was invited as a guest of Hamilton watches – a Swatch Group brand – to fly to Indianapolis for the next-to-last leg of the 2018 edition of the Red Bull Air Race. Hamilton serves as the official timekeeping sponsor of the race, which after being launched in 2003 has turned into an international event with eight race stages held in different parts of the world throughout the year, starting in February and ending in November. This year, the last two stages were competed on U.S. soil: the October event, which I attended, and, the final event in Fort Worth, TX. What I had not realized when I arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, however, was that I’d be the only U.S. journalist in a group of watch and jewelry retailers, which to me said a lot about how the brand wants to be perceived by those who sell it.

It is not a secret to anyone in our industry that the Swatch Group pulled all of its 18 brands out of the 2019 edition of the Baselworld jewelry and watch fair. I even wrote a piece covering the news on this very website not too long ago. But it’s also not news that the decision has left many to wonder what is next for the group and the brands that operate under its umbrella. That is why in the interim, watch companies like Hamilton are doing all they can to keep their name in the limelight, while making sure that their customers – and writers like moi who cover the brand – stay happy.

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My Red Bull Air Race journey included something called the Red Bull G-Flight Experience. If it sounds like something you wouldn’t want to do immediately after a three-course lunch, you’d be 100 percent correct. But my PR contact at Hamilton knew that I wasn’t a G-Flight virgin, as I’d completed a similar flight with a different RBAR pilot (representing a different watch brand) about a year prior, and I was eager to get back in the air.

Hamilton Watches presented me with my own Top Gun-esque flight suit before reading me my last righ … err, going over the safety instructions and introducing me to the pilot who’d be taking me through the experience. This was clearly something they’d done in the past and most certainly something they want people to remember. I mean, think about it: If you’re a retailer with a decent social media following and/or a website and you come back from something like this WITH VIDEO PROOF (yes, my experience is up on YouTube for all the world to see), how awesome is that going to look to your customers? Heck, I look like a heroine to my kids after doing it, so imagine what it could do for a retailer’s image!

But the G-Flight Experience was only a small part of the proverbial red carpet which was rolled out by the team at Hamilton watches. When I arrived at the VIP tent at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I was ushered over to the private Hamilton section for lunch and champagne. This is where I met and spoke with retail representatives such as Lane Schiffman with Schiffman’s – a well-established jeweler with three doors in North Carolina – as well as folks from Safa Jewelers in New Jersey, DeVries in Michigan, Moyer Fine Jewelers in Indiana, and Schwarzschild Keller & George in Virginia, to name a few. Everyone wore a different Hamilton watch and all were happy to be right in front of where the race action was taking place. Guests of the brand were also treated to a tour of the speedway’s famous “Pagoda” as well as a meet-and-greet with the three Red Bull Air Race pilots who are the brand’s Ambassadors: Nicolas Ivanoff of France, Pete McLeod of Canada, and Juan Velarde of Spain.

The two-day event was topped off each night with a beautiful dining experience and drinks, not to mention celebratory camaraderie thanks to Hamilton’s McLeod and Ivanoff walking away with the trophies for second and third place for the Indy leg.

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All in all, the experience left me feeling hopeful that watch brands who still very much care about their retail partners are willing to do what it takes to demonstrate their value. I’ve spoken to retailers who feel that more watch brands are going the route of opening their own boutiques, leaving the brick-and-mortar stores – whom they largely needed at one time – out in the cold. But on the flip side, there are some retailers who haven’t always been good at upholding their end of the business bargain.

Still, if we work together – meaning the wholesaler, retailer, designer and brand – realizing that our end game is the same, we will not only be able to keep this industry afloat, but may even get the chance to see it skyrocket. Wishful thinking, I know, but what do you expect from a writer with her head in the clouds?

 

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Barbara Palumbo is a watch and jewelry industry writer, journalist and speaker. She manages the blogging websites Adornmentality.com and Whatsonherwrist.com.

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